The 100th Rose Bowl was a forgettable one for Stanford football fans. However, on a day where the Cardinal fell to Michigan State in their second straight trip to Pasadena for The Granddaddy, one memory will always force a chuckle out of punter Ben Rhyne.
“[The pass to linebacker Trent Murphy] might be what I’m most well known for, even though the play didn’t go through,” Rhyne recalled. “At least I got some great photos out of it to pretend like I’m a much better athlete than I actually am.”
Despite the obvious sarcasm in Rhyne’s statement, it’s notable that one of the strongest punters in college football is remembered for a nullified trick play. However, it speaks more to the lack of appreciation for special teams in general than it does to Rhyne in particular.
Having recently graduated from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering with a 3.88 GPA, and having earned a master’s degree in Management Science and Engineering, Rhyne certainly has many options on the table. But for the two-time Pac-12 All-Academic First Team selection, the choice is a no-brainer.
“Right now, the immediate plan is the NFL,” Rhyne said regarding his plans. “I’ve played football now for 10 or 12 years, and I’ve had a dream since I was a kid of playing in the NFL. It’s hard to not take advantage of that opportunity when it’s given to you.”
As a punter, the dream and motivation to make it to the NFL may not be enough, and Rhyne is well aware of that. In the 2014 NFL Draft, just one punter was taken, and only two were taken in each of the two years prior. Rhyne speculated that roughly 50 percent of all kickers and punters were actually drafted, with the other half making it onto a roster after declaring as an undrafted free agent and working incredibly hard to even have a chance at a roster spot.
According to the most recent NFL prospect rankings from CBS Sports, Rhyne is the No. 15-ranked punter, and only the top five are projected to have a chance at being drafted as a late-round pick. While these odds don’t seem particularly compelling, Rhyne says there’s one thing that’s helping his case: the name on the jersey he wore for five years.
Amidst a graduating class that contains potential high draft picks such as offensive tackle Andrus Peat and cornerback Alex Carter, Rhyne has been drawing attention from NFL teams based on association alone.
“For all of us, it’s really boosted the Stanford awareness,” Rhyne said. “Because of the class leaving that was so large and so strong, we had all 32 teams visit for Pro Day. Because there is so much strength here, teams are able to work out a lot of different players.”
The potential upside of the Stanford name for Rhyne brings up an interesting detail about the overlap between Rhyne’s time at Stanford and the team’s establishment as a powerhouse. Rhyne committed to play for the Cardinal around the 2009 season, the year the team broke .500 with an 8-5 record after seven straight losing seasons. However, the team took off from there, going 12-1 the year after.
“I made a joke the other day when someone asked me why I chose Stanford: I said as a punter I chose Stanford because I thought I was going to punt a lot,” Rhyne remarked. “When I came here, Stanford wasn’t the powerhouse it is now, and there were certainly more punts back then.”
Even with fewer punts, Rhyne has found a way to establish himself as an NFL-ready punter. He credits a lot of his success to his coaches, and some of it to his special teams counterpart, kicker Jordan Williamson. Both graduating fifth-year seniors this year, Rhyne and Williamson developed a strong relationship as teammates due to the fact that they never had to compete for starts. Both had great days at NFL Pro Day, and Rhyne attests that having Williamson as a teammate has been incredibly important to him over the years.
With a phenomenal academic foundation to fall back on, Rhyne feels no pressure in his current situation. That being said, it’s clear where his hopes are currently set.
“The opportunity to play in the NFL does not come along often. I’m thrilled to even have the chance, so I’m going to take it one day at a time and see what comes my way.”
Contact Sandip Srinivas at sandips ‘at’ stanford.edu.